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Introducing Cinderella: LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds

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Conference: Northeast

Coach: Derek Kellogg

Record: 18-16 (10-8 NEC)

Rankings and Ratings:

Kenpom: 261
RPI: 249
AP/USA TODAY: Not ranked

Seeding: Given the computer numbers, the question for LIU Brooklyn is likely whether they’ll be headed to Dayton for the First Four or if they’ll be one of the two 16-seeds that is placed directly into the “main” bracket. Either way, expect the Blackbirds to be on the 16 line when the bracket is unveiled.

Names you need to know: Junior guards Joel Hernandez and Raiquan Clark are the Blackbirds’ top two scorers, with Hernandez averaging 20.5 points per game and Clark chipping in with 17.3 per. With LIU Brooklyn battling first half foul trouble, Hernandez scored 19 first-half points as the Blackbirds took a 34-18 halftime lead at Wagner in the NEC title game. As for Clark, in addition to his scoring the 6-foot-4 guard leads LIU Brooklyn in rebounding at 7.1 per game. Sophomore guards Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts are also averaging double figures on the season, with senior forward Zach Coleman averaging 6.6 rebounds per game.

Stats you need to know: LIU Brooklyn entered Tuesday’s NEC title game averaging 77.7 points per game. In conference games the Blackbirds were the best in the NEC in free throw rate (39.8) by a solid margin, and they also led the NEC in two-point field goal percentage (54.2 percent in league games). With regards to perimeter shooting Batts, who’s shooting just over 40 percent from three, and Hernandez have been the best options percentage-wise, but Agosto is a capable shooter as well.

Big wins, bad losses: The two wins over Wagner, the first being a 69-67 thriller back on January 13, are the most noteworthy wins for LIU Brooklyn this season. Tuesday’s win at Wagner gave LIU Brooklyn its first Quadrant 2 victory of the season, and 14 of the team’s 18 wins have come in Quadrant 4 games.

How’d they get here?: LIU Brooklyn took care of business at home in its first two NEC tournament games, beating St. Francis-Brooklyn and Fairleigh Dickinson, to reach the NEC final. From there the Blackbirds took care of Wagner, 71-61, handing the NEC regular season champions their first home loss of the season.

Outlook: If they can get to Dayton, LIU Brooklyn may be able to pick up a win (and for the NEC a valuable second NCAA tournament unit). The team’s lack of size inside could be an issue however, with no player taller than 6-foot-7 (Coleman) seeing much playing time.

How do I know you?: Kellogg should be a recognizable name, as he spent the nine seasons prior at UMass (his alma mater) before taking the LIU Brooklyn job this past offseason. As for the program, LIU Brooklyn reached the NCAA tournament three consecutive years earlier this decade (2011-13).

VIDEO: CCSU’s Howie Dickenman announces retirement

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Following his team’s upset win over Mount St. Mary’s, Central Connecticut State head coach Howie Dickenman made it official that he would be retiring at the end of this season after 20 years at the helm in New Britain. There were reports earlier this week that Dickenman, who has led the Blue Devils to three NCAA tournament appearances during his tenure, would be retiring.

CCSU’s three NCAA appearances under Dickenman came within a seven-year span, with the first coming in 2000. CCSU would return two years later, and their most recent appearance came in 2007.

Dickenman, a CCSU alumnus, has coached at the college level for more than 40 years and he’s had a significant impact on basketball in Connecticut. Prior to taking the job at CCSU, Dickenman was an assistant at UConn where he helped Jim Calhoun take what was once a regional program in the Yankee Conference and turn it into a power at both the conference (Big East at the time) and national levels.

Dickenman may not have been on the staff that delivered UConn’s first national title in 1999, but his work on Calhoun’s staff helped make it possible. Among the players who Dickenman coached at UConn were two current Division I head coaches in Kevin Ollie (UConn) and Steve Pikiell (Stony Brook).

Earl Brown’s beats the buzzer to lift St. Francis past Sacred Heart (PA) 79-78 (VIDEO)

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Sacred Heart took a 77-76 lead with a baseline out-of-bounds play ending with a Jordan Allen layup. St. Francis (PA) Greg Brown raced down the floor, attracting three defenders as he drove to the basket. His layup was off the mark, but his drive drew the attention of another Pioneer defender, allowing Earl Brown to sneak in for the second-chance effort and the game-winning bucket.

Brown, the 6-foot-6 senior forward, ended with nine points and six boards. The buzzer-beating win keeps the Red Flash atop the Northeast Conference standings along with Bryant and St. Francis (NY).

Central Connecticut State star guard announces his college career is over

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Central Connecticut State senior guard Kyle Vinales announced on Monday afternoon that his collegiate career is over, and he will look to seek professional contract immediately.

“No more college ball for me. Time to start my pro career,” Vinales tweeted.

The 6-foot-1 Vinales has not played this season. In late October he was suspended indefinitely following an arrest for allegedly striking his girlfriend. He has a scheduled court appearance on Dec. 5.

In three seasons with the Blue Devils he scored 1,514 career points, averaging better than 17 points in game each year. The preseason all-NEC guard missed nine games last season due to a broken finger, but his return this season made the Blue Devils a pick to finish near the top of the conference standings.

In Vinales’ absence sophomore guards Matt Mobley (18.0 points per game) and Khalen Cumberlander (11.8 ppg) have picked up the scoring load, however, Central Connecticut State has dropped the first six games of the season.

Andrew Toole hoping Robert Morris can ‘get over the hump’ and back into NCAA Tournament in 2015

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

For 18 weeks last season Mount St. Mary’s carried a losing record. However, the Mountaineers picked up momentum beginning in March with four straight wins, three of which came in the Northeast Conference Tournament.

On March 11, Mount St. Mary’s ran away with an 88-71 win against top-seeded Robert Morris, dashing the Colonials NCAA tournament hopes for the second consecutive season.

A week later, one day after St. Patrick’s Day, the Mountaineers’ luck ran out, as Albany ended their season with a 71-64 victory in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. On the same night, Robert Morris head coach Andrew Toole had a postseason game of his own, as the Colonials went into Carnesecca Arena and defeated St. John’s, 89-79, in the first round of the NIT.

For Toole it was his fourth postseason win in as many seasons since taking over the program in 2010, the biggest of which came in March 2013 when the Colonials upset reigning national champion Kentucky in the first round of the NIT.

Despite the postseason success and a 72-37 (42-11 NEC) record over the past three seasons, Robert Morris hasn’t appeared in an NCAA tournament since 2010 when it nearly upset No. 2 seeded Villanova.

Lucky Jones shoots over Archie Goodwin (AP)

Toole has maintained the success of the program, never finishing lower than third in the conference during his tenure as head coach. There’s an established tradition at Robert Morris with 11 regular season conference titles, but bittersweet success is what is driving Robert Morris during the first few weeks of practice.

“It’s something that pushes us and motivates us,” Toole told “We keep saying that if we continually get back to that spot you’ll eventually get over the hump. It’s not easy to get back into those tournament championship games.” 

This year more than others there is uncertainty around the league. Many of the top players have graduated, including Robert Morris guard Karvel Anderson, who was named NEC Player of the Year in 2013-2014. Mount St. Mary’s graduated three 1,000 career scorers. Wagner is without the conference’s three-time defensive player of the year, Kenneth Ortiz and Bryant forward Alex Francis, a two-time first team selection, is also gone.

“There is a lot of unknowns,” Toole added. “You look at that teams that return the most, a lot of people are choosing those teams toward the top of the league because they have more proven entities than some of the other groups.”

Central Connecticut State has four starters back, including a healthy Kyle Vinales. St. Francis (NY) returns six of its top nine scorers, including first-team all-conference forward Jalen Cannon. However, both those teams committed the most turnovers in the league last season. St. Francis (PA) has the same starting five as last year, but is this the year for the Red Flash to end a 23-year tournament drought?

Robert Morris, like Bryant, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s has its personnel losses to overcome, however, each of those teams have the pieces to be in the conversation come March.

MORE: Northeast Conference Preview

By the end of the season, the Colonials were down to just eight scholarship players. Two of those players — Anderson and starting point guard Anthony Myers-Pate — exhausted their eligibility. Fortunately for Toole, all six of those returning players logged 15 or more minutes, headlined by wing Lucky Jones, who averaged 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in an all-NEC second team junior season.

The 6-foot-6 Jones has been a stapel in the Colonials lineup, starting 66 of 70 games in the past two seasons. He’s also a reliable big-game player, going for 25 points, nine boards and five assists in a NIT win over the Johnnies in March. The previous year, he scored a team-high 15 points in the monumental win over Kentucky.

“It’s huge [having Lucky],” Toole said. “He’s a guy that is so versatile and can do so many things on the floor, whether it’s rebounding, scoring or defending. He can give us a little bit of confidence as we go into games because we know what we can get from Lucky and we can build from there. Having him on the roster and him as a senior is invaluable to us.”

Will arguably the conference’s top player, six key contributors and a competitive non-conference schedule (North Carolina, Georgetown, Toledo) be enough to push the Colonials over that hump and into the field of 68? In a conference as unpredictable as the Northeast has been over the last few seasons it’s too early to tell. But one thing is for certain, Toole will have his guys ready.

“There are so many teams that can compete for a championship,” Toole said. “If you aren’t prepared or playing with the urgency you need to play with, I think that can beat you. That goes across the board, from top to bottom, in the conference. Like I said, there’s a lot of unknowns. Each and every game is going to be a challenge, as it has been every other year we’ve been in the NEC.

“It’s a long, long process and we can’t take any shortcuts as we build toward conference play because everyone is going to be at their best, everyone is going to try to win those league games and I think everyone believes they have chance.”

LIU Brooklyn’s Jason Brickman becomes fourth player to record 1,000 career assists

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With 8:33 remaining in the first half, LIU Brooklyn senior point guard Jason Brickman recorded his third assist of the night as Gerrell Martin sunk a 3-pointer.

For Brickman, that would be his 1,000th career assist, becoming only the fourth player in college basketball history to reach that milestone in the final game with the Blackbirds. He ended the night with 12 dimes — the 18th time this season he’s recorded double-digit assists — which tied his Northeast Conference single-season record 0f 290. Brickman ended his collegiate career with 1,009 assists.

Before Brickman hit the milestone, the illustrious group was limited to only those who starred in the ACC. Brickman joins Duke’s Bobby Hurley, N.C. State’s Chris Corchiani and North Carolina’s Ed Cota as Division I floor generals to amass 1,000 assists.

In his four-year career with LIU Brooklyn, Brickman helped lead the Blackbirds to three consecutive NCAA tournaments after winning the Northeast Conference tournament in each of his first three seasons. LIU Brooklyn will not have a chance as a four-peat this season as the Blackbirds did not qualify for the conference’s postseason tournament.

Brickman ends his senior season averaging a double-double at 11.3 points and 10.0 assists per game. He averaged 9.1 points and 7.8 assists per game. LIU Brooklyn finished the 2013-2014 season 9-20 (4-12 NEC).